How To Outline Your Novel Like A Prolific Author
Want to write quickly, or even prolifically, and still put out great books? Here’s how you can do just that.
If I told my past self that my fiction writing speed would go from 2000 words per hour to over 5000 within just a few weeks, I’d have fallen over. Putting out a full manuscript draft in less than a week? Impossible.
Is it? Apparently not!
The one thing that I find has made all the difference in this incredible productivity journey is developing a better, stronger outlining process. It turns out that real efficiency starts long before you put out the first sentence of your draft.
I decided to share some aspects of my process — along with a few lessons I’ve learned — so that you, too, can bring out your inner prolific writer.
Divide Your Outline Into Targeted Categories
In my experience, many of us divide our outlines haphazardly by chapter or basic events. This leaves far too much room for ruminating and rummaging through new ideas, which slows down the overall writing process.
It’s much better to get specific during the outlining phase. Before you even think about chapters, you should have at least three basic categories of notes and ideas. Those categories are:
- Characterization Sheets,
- Setting Sheets,
- & Main or Central Plot Points.
You can design these sheets yourself or make use of the plethora of free printable worksheets available online. I will provide links to a few more of these in the resources section at the end of this piece.
Make Notes On Your Outline
While plugging away at the bare bones of your chapters, it’s easy to get into a state of tunnel-vision. Alternatively, you may be like me and find that this phase of the planning process is especially prone to distractions.
My solution is quite simple. Keep a separate series of documents outside your outline, each connected to a specific chapter or scene in your overall plan.
These documents are where you will pour all of those nagging thoughts, shiny new ideas, questions, research topics, loose ends, and doubts for later consideration. You may find that many of them cease to be important by the time you actually start writing your draft.
The key here is to keep yourself focused only on the outline while you are, well, outlining. Fancy that!
Divide & Conquer (Everything)
The depth and number of subcategories your outline requires will be a personal decision, but having some subdocuments and topic divisions throughout the outlining process will make your drafting phase much more efficient.
For example, each chapter that I outline has the following subcategories:
- Character Cast,
- Inciting, Middle, & End Events,
- Overall Chapter Goals,
- Questions The Chapter Answers/Asks,
- Numbered & Labeled Scenes,
- And more!
This may sound overwhelming, but the time I’ve invested in these subdocuments has made my actual writing speed go up by thousands of words per hour. It takes away a great deal of the peripheral thinking that normally eats into your word output later.
Know Your Goals, And More Importantly, Your Characters’ Goals
To make things even simpler, I begin each chapter — or even scene — in my outline document with a brief note about the goals each of the present characters are holding at that time.
Perhaps the goal shifts between the start and end of this portion of my story. I note that change, too. Maybe the goal is presented outwardly one way but is actually something totally different within the character’s P.O.V. This is also noted down in the goals section.
Common character goals include:
- Attaining a certain object,
- Attracting another character as a friend, ally, or romantic interest,
- Reaching a specific milestone,
- Or achieving some new skill (or skill level).
Sometimes your cast will have competing goals, or this may even be the case most of the time. That’s wonderful! It will make for a much more riveting story that way.
It also means that it’s even more important you provide yourself with 1–3 sentence summaries that track these competing goals and keep them right in your line of sight while you’re hashing out the details of the scene(s).
You Can Learn To Customize Later On
My final piece of advice may be controversial, if only because we creatives tend to be sensitive about our freedom of thought. In the beginning, so long as your main goal is to become more prolific, I suggest you pick an established outlining system and stick with it as closely as possible.
Whether it is the “Ten Day” system organized by Lewis Jorstad, the “Plot Gardening” system emphasized by Chris Fox, or any other methods proposed by reliable experts, stay with one system for a length of time.
Once you know your own needs, habits, and natural inclinations better, you can mix and match or customize the process to your heart’s content. For now, you will see better results simply by working within pre-set parameters.
This takes the guesswork out of your process and leaves you more mental room for the actual act of storytelling.
All writers and authors are unique, and some of us will not be as concerned with output or productivity measures as others. That is more than okay, and these differences are something to celebrate!
However, if you want to put out more books at a faster rate, having a detailed, reliable, and habitual outlining process is possibly the most dependable way to do so. It is also the best way to preserve your work quality as you cut back on the time it takes to create it.
I would love to hear your own strategies and methods, if you find them effective — please share them, if you’re willing to! Thank you all for reading, and I hope you found this guide helpful.
Outlining Resources for Authors:
- Free Printables Link 1
- Free Printables Link 2
- Novel Planning Worksheets from All Freelance Writing
- One Page Novel Planning Spreadsheet from Eva Deverell’s website
- “The Ten Day Outline” by Lewis Jorstad
- “Plot Gardening” by Chris Fox
- Well-Storied’s “Finding the Novel Outlining Process That Works For You” Podcast Episode
Emily Sinclair Montague (author E.M. Sinclair) is a professional freelance writer from the Washington, D.C. area.
She loves to hear from readers and writers alike, and you can reach her via her website at www.wordsofafeather.net or through her professional email, email@example.com — either way, she won’t bite (unless you really make her mad).